Monday, December 14, 2009

Three-Meat Calzones

Like most people, I love my pizza any way I can get it. And I like to order calzones in restaurants, but I prefer making them at home because I can stuff 'em any way I want 'em. However, they seem intimidating because you have to make dough (which is scary), and then roll the dough (which might be scarier).

Making calzones was my first forray into the dough world, and it was rough going. Let's just say that I started at about 2 p.m. Three attempts and six hours later, I was bawling in the kitchen because we were never going to get suh-uh-uhp-per and I was a horrible co-oo-oo-ook. (Yes, they were heaving sobs.) I've learned a lot since then, so I will attempt to impart a few tips that make dough t less frightening for me.

But first, a funny calzone story. And some background that might get me disowned by my mother. When I was growing up, my family took a very low-maintenance approach to food. The oven was used pretty much for frozen pizza and the occasional batch of cookies. And the stovetop was virtually off-limits. That's what the microwave was for. If it could possibly be cooked in the microwave, we did it. Eggs. Bacon. Hot dogs. Mac 'n' cheese. Hamburger Helper (including the hamburger itself).

Case in point: My mother was visiting last week, and she got hungry. She raided the fridge, hoping for some sandwich fixin's. We were out of deli meat, so she ate half a jar of pickles, and two bagels slathered in ketchup and Dijon mustard. And then she grabbed a can of Chunky Baked Potato soup from the cupboard. I got out a saucepan -- because I use the stovetop whenever possible -- and Mom said, "Oh, that's not necessary." I said, "You want to mic it?" She said, "Oh, no need." And she proceeded to eat the soup cold. From the can.

But back to my story. Last year the hubby and I went to Florida with his sisters. And I talked my brother, Cory, into house- and pet-sitting for us. (He was quite the trouper; I was too busy at Disneyworld to answer my phone when he accidentally locked himself out of the house and was hoping I'd hidden a spare key. And when he called for advice while walking the dogs because one of the dogs was "stuck," I hung up on him because we were deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and a pair of dolphins were racing our boat.)

We stocked the house with Cory-friendly food before we left, including a few frozen calzones. I told Cory to call us if he planned on eating them, and I'd explain how to bake them; it seemed like too much info to put in a note.

At one point I called Cory to check in. I asked how the food situation was going. He informed me that he'd eaten all the pizza in the house, and also the calzones. And they were pretty good. I said, "Oh, how did you bake them?" He said he put them in the microwave. I said, "Uh, you were supposed to BAKE them, not just heat them up."

He said, "Alyssa, we're not all as particular as you are when it comes to food. I'm sure they would've been better in the oven, but the microwave was just fine."

I explained that this wasn't an issue of food snobbery. "The calzones weren't prebaked. The dough was raw when I froze them. They'd NEVER BEEN COOKED."

[Long pause]

"Oh, I get it. But oh well. I thought they were a tad doughy. But they were still pretty good. I dipped them in the pizza sauce that you left me, and they were just fine."

Anyway, the recipe for this dough is a modified version of a Cuisine at Home recipe. I made my own filling, but you can certainly substitute anything you like -- any meats, veggies, cheeses, etc. You want about one cup of filling for each calzone, and you don't want it too watery, or it will make your dough soggy.

Three-Meat Calzones
Makes 4

Cooking spray
1 c. warm water*
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. sugar plus 1 Tbsp., divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 c. bread flour
1 Tbsp. table salt

1/4-1/3 lb. hamburger or sausage, browned, drained, and cooled
3/4 c. chopped ham or Canadian bacon
3/4 c. chopped pepperoni
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/2 c. pizza sauce, plus more for dipping

*The recommended temperature is between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I drove myself crazy with a thermometer the first time I made dough, and it didn't work. The hubby, who had more dough experience, showed me the right temperature, so I could get accustomed by feel. Now when I make dough, I get the water as warm as I would for a baby's bath. Conversely, when the hubby is running water for the Jack-baby's bath, I tell him to make it as warm as he would for his pizza dough.

1. Coat a large bowl and a small sheet pan with cooking spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand for 15 minutes, and then stir in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.

This is "proofing" the yeast -- basically, making sure that it's still alive. The warm water activates it, and the sugar gives it something to eat. The yeast should bubble and froth as it expels gas (yummy). If your mixture isn't foamy after 15 minutes, your yeast be dead.

You can learn a lot from Alton Brown.

3. Using a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, briefly combine bread flour, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and salt. Slowly add the yeast mixture until a ball forms around the hook. Turn your mixer to medium speed and knead for about 10 minutes.

If your dough just isn't coming together, it might be because of the weather or altitude. You can add a bit of water -- such as a teaspoon or two -- to give it some more moisture.

4. Turn your dough out onto the counter and knead by hand a few times. Form the mixture into a ball and place in the bowl that is sprayed with cooking spray. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

I have a problem finding a "warm" place in my kitchen without turning on the oven. So I usually take a mug of hot water and heat it in the microwave for 1 minute. I push that into the corner of the microwave, and then put my dough in and close the microwave. The steamy water makes it warm, and it's certainly draft-free.

5. Punch down the dough and divide it into four equal pieces. Form each into a ball. Place on the greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise for another 30-40 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and generously spread cornmeal on a baking sheet.

7. Combine hamburger or sausage, ham, pepperoni, cheese, and 1/2 c. pizza sauce in a medium bowl.

8. For each calzone, roll a piece of the dough in about a 10-inch circle. Perfect circles need not apply.

9. Place about 1 c. filling in the center of one side of the circle.

10. Brush the edges of the dough with water to help with the seal, and then fold over one side of the dough. Crimp the edges of the dough with a fork to seal them.

11. Place the calzones on cornmeal-covered baking sheet.

I usually bake two and freeze two for later.

12. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until crust is golden. Brush with a bit of olive oil, and serve with heated pizza or marinara sauce.

And be careful, because that filling is piping hot!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy holidays!

The hubby and I have been out of town for almost a week, visiting both our families for the holidays. Luckily they don't live too far apart, because the weather has been wreaking havoc with everyone's travel plans.

We braved yesterday's winter storm to drive to the hubby's family ranch for an abbreviated Christmas Eve celebration; the highways were fairly slippery, and the rural road to the ranch was covered with deep drifts. Yay for four-wheel drive!

Today it's blizzarding, and we're snowed in with my family. I think we've gotten about a foot of snow, but it's blown clear in some places and we have five-foot drifts in other spots. (I tried to take a picture of the weather outside, but apparently whiteouts are difficult to photograph. Who knew?)

But it's a pretty good weekend to be snowed in. We have plenty of food and diapers. The hubby, my brother, and my dad have plenty of new video games to break in. My mom's wandering around in her Snuggie. I have a fresh stack of cookbooks. And the little man has milk aplenty and a new light-up seahorse. Not to mention the giggles, which just started a few days ago.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and safe travels!

San Francisco Pork Chops

For about a year, the hubby and I worked in towns two hours apart, so we lived in the middle and split the driving difference each day. We had a horrid winter that year; the snow in our yard was more than waist high, and it we were pummeled with snowstorm after snowstorm.

I ended up working from home a lot that winter, and used my slow cooker every day that I did. I'd throw something in during my morning coffee break or my lunch break, and the hubby and I had supper ready as soon as he got home.

This is one of the recipes that I discovered during that stretch, and it's been a favorite ever since. It's incredibly quick and easy, and the result is some very tender pork chops in a spicy teriyaki-type sauce.

I usually serve this with rice or mashed potatoes so the yummy sauce isn't wasted, but tonight I stir-fried some veggies and noodles, and used some of the sauce as a basis for some stir-fry sauce.

A note of caution that this dish can easily become overcooked; if you're not familiar with whether your slow cooker runs hotter or cooler, you might want to try this on a day when you're home. (When I got a new slow cooker that ran significantly warmer than my last, I came home to some lovely charred chops stuck to the bottom of my crockpot in what appeared to be tar. Yum!)

As always, be sure to check out Crockpot Wednesdays on Dining with Debbie!

San Francisco Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 boneless pork loin chops (not thin-cut)
Salt and pepper
2 tsp. oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. soy sauce, preferably a thick variety (I'd recommend my favorite brand, but it's been discontinued)
1/4 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water

1. Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat and brown chops on both sides.

2. Remove chops from pan and add to slow cooker.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic to pan. Cook about 30 seconds, until garlic starts to turn golden.

4. Combine soy sauce, broth, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper. Add to pan and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.

5. Pour mixture over chops.

6. Cover and cook on low about 6 hours.

7. Remove chops. Combine cornstarch and water, and add to sauce. Return pork chops to slow cooker. Cover and cook an additional 30 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deconstructed Denver Omelet

A friend of mine half-joked the other day that I've just been phoning it in on my blog, and you know, he's right. I haven't been terribly active lately, and when I do cook something new, it's usually a very quick meal. I start each week with great intentions and a meal plan, but it sort of flies out the window within a few days.

There's a part of me that feels like I should apologize. And yet, I'm not really sorry. My time at home with the little man is rapidly dwindling. When I go back to work after the holidays, I want to look back on these past few months with longing, not regret.

That is why, even though I have a meal planned for each evening, I usually end up just phoning it in. The little man wakes up from his afternoon nap around 4 or so, and eats a leisurely supper. And then, well rested, well fed, and with clean pants, he is ready to par-tay, Jack-baby style. I then have to decide between A.) Putting him in his swing for an hour or so while I prepare supper, or B.) Scrapping my original meal plan and throwing something together at the last minute so Jack and I can play with the puppies. Or dance to Christmas tunes. Or see who can smile at the ceiling fan the longest. (I always lose.)

I always choose B. Which makes the little man pretty happy.

Can you blame me? This is the smile that will get him out of many hours of detention someday.

This meal was my standby supper last week, because we had oodles of ham. And eggs are my friend.

I've always been the type to eat breakfast for any meal of the day, but I've probably single-handedly upped the average number of eggs consumed per person this year. First off, my doctor suggested I eat a lot of eggs a few months before the hubby and I attempted our in-vitro. And I take doctors' orders very seriously. Also, while I didn't get terribly sick during my pregnancy, I also couldn't bear the thought of most foods. Eggs were the only food I could regularly eat, so I typically had them for two meals a day. Sometimes with bacon. And my cholesterol is stellar.

This skillet contains the typical components of a Denver omelet. However, I was hungry for eggs over-easy, which I like to mix all up with hash browns, so I just threw everything in together. That's how it all ends up eventually anyway, right? Right.

All quantities are to your liking.

1. Heat a skillet to medium-high and add a tablespoon or two of butter. Add the hash browns immediately (I used about a cup or so). Sprinkle the hash browns with pepper and Lawry's season salt.

Butter and season salt are a hash brown's best friends.

2. Cook the hash browns to desired doneness. I like mine with some crust, but still soft enough to mash together with my eggs. It took about 5 minutes.

3. In the same skillet, throw in some diced ham, onion, and green bell pepper. I used about a half-cup of ham, 1/4 a large onion, and half a large green pepper.

4. Cook until ham starts to brown, and veggies are crisp-tender -- about 2 or 3 minutes. Then mix everything together.

5. In a separate skillet, fry eggs (I made two) until cooked to desired doneness.

6. Top hash brown mixture with some cheese, and then eggs.

7. Wash your six dishes and go spend time with your family.